Jaws 3 or Jaws III or Jaws 3-D (1983)

The Third Dimension is Terribly Awful.

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Jaws 3. I can’t refer to it as Jaws 3-D, because I’ve never seen it in that format. Actually, the film title on screen says Jaws III, even if the all the artwork says otherwise. You know this film was originally going to be called Jaws 3, People 0 and was going to be a piss-take/parody? Great concept, and it would have been better than what we actually got. There was a fair amount of time between Jaws 2 and this, and in the meantime 3D had sort of taken off again for the first time since the 50’s, which meant the presence of a lot of horror movies with body parts coming right towards the audience. The best example of this was an eyeball being squeezed out of a head and – BOOM! IN YOUR FACE!! – in Friday the 13th Part 3, which I have seen in 3D because a few years ago Channel 4 had a whole weekend of 3D entertainment, albeit with the old crappy glasses, not the ultra-sophisticated ones you get these days. Amazingly, they showed Friday the 13th Part 3 TWICE over that weekend, a seal of recommendation for sure. Maybe they showed it twice because the public couldn’t believe the film really was that bad and had to double-check. Anyway, Jaws 3 wasn’t part of that weekend’s entertainment, which was a real shame, because I’ve always wanted to see this laughably silly, undeniably awful but strangely watchable turkey in its original version.

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Say what you like about Jaws 2, at least it felt like it belonged to the same universe as the original. Same location, mostly the same cast, same composer…. it was nowhere near as great as Spielberg’s film, but it was cut from the same cloth, at least in terms of atmosphere. Jaws 3 on the other hand, barring the inevitable re-appearance of John Williams’ shark theme, does not feel like a Jaws film. True, we have two recurring characters (the two Brody sons), but they’re played by different actors, so no continuity sadly. We’ve moved from Amity Island on to the very real locale of Sea World, Florida. Now the notion of Jaws laying siege to a water park is fantastic, but the reality is isn’t so exciting. Most of the time Jaws almost bites people, but she keeps missing. Oh yeah, this shark is actually designated a gender for the first time, for this is the ‘mutha’ of a baby shark that our heroes capture early on.

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Jaws 3 was the last in the series I got round to seeing. This is because it was rarely shown on British TV, at least not on the same level as the other three. I mean, Jaws 1 and 2 were on ALL the time. Even Jaws the Revenge, made four years after 3, seemed to get more screenings in the early nineties. So, the anticipation was unbearable. My sister had seen it at the cinema, when it was shown in 3D. She had enjoyed it as far as I remember. All I knew was that it was the one set in Florida’s Sea World, and that there was a scene where Jaws smashes an underwater observation tunnel with loads of tourists inside. Now that’s a worst-nightmare situation squared. I remember the excitement when ITV advertised an upcoming Saturday evening screening – the ads showed the fin in the water, and that was enough to get me quivering with excitement. However, the film itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment – true, the screening was sure to have been cut given the 6pm-ish broadcast time, but it felt strangely bloodless, lacking in any kind of oomph. How did it all end this way? Let’s start from the start. The Universal logo here looks slightly different than it has in any other film, probably to emphasise its three-dimensionality. Nice.

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As is the way it should always be, a Jaws film must start with a death. In the first one it was poor Chrissie. In the second it was two hapless photographers. The fourth one would keep us waiting a few minutes, teasing us with some on-land footage before delivering the goods. The third one? Well, the third one has Jaws MkIII eat a fish. A bit of a fish. That’s right, she doesn’t even eat the whole thing. The third Jaws shark (actually there are two in this film, but I can’t be bothered to differentiate them – one’s fake-looking and big, the other’s fake-looking and enormous) is definitely the pickiest and most fussy of all the lot. Her snobbiness may really get on your nerves soon enough. So in the first of the film’s landmark 3-D effects, the dead fish’s head floats calmly towards the screen. Some of the underwater visuals in this film are pretty good – there’s lots of aquatic life to gawk at, even if some of their movements look strangely sped up. After the fish head, we then get the second blatant 3-D effect, that of the film’s title rising from the depths of the ocean and RIGHT TOWARDS THE SCREEN! Also, get this, the title’s ‘mouth’ is open as it approaches us, SNAPPING shut at the last second! Brilliant! This is the kind of 3-D exploitation the medium was invented for. Now if you’re watching the 3-D version, the title will read as Jaws 3-D. However, if it’s the 2-D version, it’ll read as Jaws III, which is a bit odd. The second one wasn’t given the Roman numeral treatment, so why this one? It’s like Death Wish II being followed by Death Wish 3. Continuity, people, please!

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All of the credits during this opening have a really tacky, cheap faux-3D effect, but nothing else literally snaps at the viewer like the title does. Louis Gossett, Jr. gets the most impressive on-screen credit, as we discover he plays the role of ‘Calvin Bouchard’. I never understand why films showcase a certain character’s name like this – are we meant to give an extra special shit about this character? We then move above ground to see one of those water skiing human pyramid things in action – it looks very cool, I must admit. Throughout all of this the music plays, music not composed by John Williams, I must add. This score, although integrating Williams’ classic Jaws theme throughout, is the work of Alan Parker. Not the same Alan Parker who directed Bugsy Malone and Angel Heart. This new score is pretty good – not on the same level as Williams’, but pretty good. We find out that the script was co-written by Richard Matheson, who created I am Legend! What happened? Off day, I suppose. Also, the film was ‘suggested by the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley’, which comes off weird, like the inanimate tome itself was the one that came up with the idea for the film, which it didn’t. Finally, the director of this film is Joe Alves, who worked as a production designer on the first two Jaws films – this would be his first and only film as director. Thank God for that.

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So Jaws is lurking underneath the skiers (one of whom is a flirty, boisterous Lea Thompson, a few years before she stared as Marty McFly’s mum in Back to the Future), and we’re hoping at least one of them might get chomped, or that there might even be a close call when the pyramid crumbles and they all end up in the drink, but there’s not even that. It just lurks, watching, edging a little closer, but mostly staying suspiciously still, something I didn’t think sharks could pull off without dying. To be fair, the sharks in this film get to do a lot of things they can’t do in real life, so should I bother nit-picking? Yes. Yes I should. Jaws decides she’s already filled up on fish, so we stay above ground and realise that we’re no longer on Amity Island, but in the very real location of Sea World, Florida, where a load of bored kids are being forced to pledge allegiance to the underwater flag or something, and the press are in town to cover the long-awaited opening of the Undersea Kingdom, the chief of which is Calvin Bouchard, who we know is a big deal because of the opening credits. In a moment of extraordinarily lax security, Jaws manages to sneak in the gates to Sea World, smashing the way in as she does so, which means everyone’s ripping in to the ripped, buffed Shelby Overman (great name) for screwing up the gates or something and that Mike Brody’s ‘going to be pissed’. Thanks for introducing us viewers to this guy by using his full name for no other reason than for us to go ‘Mike Brody!’ Er, which one was he again? He was the older Brody kid, the one who barely got away with a shark swimming right past him in the first film and then barely got away with another shark trying to kill him in the second one.

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Bouchard can be seen stuffing wads of cash into his pockets before giving an interview to the press, so we know he’s corrupt, and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a barely heard reference to his ‘colourful past’ mentioned by his PA, so god knows what he’s been up to. One of the big draws of the day he reveals, is the appearance of Phillip FitzRoyce (‘with a capital R’), so that’s something to look forward to, I suppose. Mike Brody shows up in his third regeneration of the series, this time played by Dennis Quaid (poor man), and he orders his lackeys to fix the gate, but in work time, NOT overtime! NO OVERTIME!!!

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Wow, all these characters are fantastic, aren’t they? Here’s another one – Kay (Bess Armstrong), Mike’s girlfriend, who is in charge (remember that) she likes whales and especially two dolphins called Cindy and Sandy, the latter two seeming to have some kind of psychic awareness that there’s a shark in these here waters. There’s functional dialogue between Mike and Kay, from whom we learn that the little Brody brother will also be visiting for a while. He was the one who did that cute mimicry with Papa Brody at the dinner table in the first one, and who saw lovely Marge get swallowed in whole before his very eyes in the second one. FitzRoyce, despite his Scottish name, turns out to be a none-more English toff who dresses like a Great White Hunter (which in effect, he will become), played by Simon ‘Manimal’ MacCorkindale, while his cockney ward Jack (given to saying ‘guv’nor’ and ‘mate’ a lot), is played by P.H Moriarty, in possibly the least threatening performance he has ever given. Lil’ Sean (third reincarnation played by John Putch) and Mike have their reunion, which has little to no emotional impact for us viewers because the filmmakers keep changing the bloody actors.

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Meanwhile Overman tries to fix the gate and becomes the first human victim of Jaws MkIII. There’s a series of flash edits before we get the cool 3-D shot of Overman’s severed arm floating towards the screen, complete with protruding bone. Jaws appears to make an aggressive noise before the kill, which is impossible, but since this is one of the better moments in the film, I’ll let it slide. You’d better make the most of that nice bit of gore, as the film gets bogged down with bullshit between the Brodys, Kay and Mama McFly as they get pissed up on beers, chew the fat, play ‘stand-off’ and blah-blah-blah. I mean, this film is only an hour and a half (the shortest of the series before Jaws the Revenge came in at an even leaner running time four years later), we don’t have time for this shit! Sean fancies Mama McFly and they canoodle on the beach and we find out that the former doesn’t like the water, understandably enough. Also, Mike is probably going to have to travel to Venezuela because of his work. Kay understands. We don’t. Two muppets sneak out into Sea World territory to do something or another – they get eaten (entirely offscreen, very disappointing), as does their inflatable boat (the horror!), Mike and Kay play a dull prank on the smooching Sean and McFly (who uses her feminine wiles to completely cure Lil’ Brody of his longtime fear). All this stuff passes the time inoffensively enough, but we need FitzRoyce to liven things up the next morning as he walks in on some dolphin action observed by Kay.

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FitzRoyce is a regular cad, a real twat, but he’s definitely the best character in the film, given great ham by Manimal. He’s also an old-fashioned chauvinist, rejecting Kay’s offer of help because he’s after ‘someone in authority’ instead, completely oblivious to the fact that she’s the one in charge. He gets a great moment when Kay asks him why he rammed a Japanese whaler all those years back (yeah, I know, who cares) and he delivers the response ‘because he got in my way…ruined my shot’ with such plummy smugness that I don’t know whether to hate him or love him. The cad also tries to wangle a dinner out of Kay but she’s not interested, much to his bemusement. Mike meanwhile has to take some bizarre verbal abuse from Overman’s girlfriend, who’s all pissed-off because he didn’t come home last night. Check this killer dialogue:

‘You can tell Shelby Overman for me he can take a flyin’ leap in a rollin’ doughnut on a gravel driveway, you hear?’

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Er, what? Anyway, Mike and Kay reckon Overman’s hungover, but they still take the mini-sub out to look for him, and this where the special effects really start to look embarrassing. The super-imposed effects of the sub traversing underwater stick out like sore thumbs, as do the shots of Mission Control or wherever observing all the action through a window, which look really ropey. The worst bit is when the sub glides (I’m assuming this was meant to look graceful, given Parker’s sweeping theme) across the screen – only the front of it seems to disappear, becoming at one with the waves. Just watch it, it looks awful! Also, the amount of grain throughout this sequence is really noticeable. Something about the general rule back in the day of film’s inferior quality once it’s been put through the 3-D grinder and then converted back to 2D, or so I’ve heard – I’ve never seen a version of this film that looks above VHS quality. Mike and Kay exit the sub and look around the ‘sunken Spanish galleon’ where we get an indulgent shot of a phoney skeleton with its hand sticking right into the audiences faces! That’s the problem when films with as many in-your-face shots like these are screened in 2-D – they’re not effective at all, and this shot in particular seems to go on forever. Probably looked cool back in ’83 though, which is why this film really needs a proper 3-D overhaul on Blu-Ray. The dolphins have tagged along for the ride and one of them is trying to warn Mike and Kay in dolphin-speak that something bad is about to happen, but because this isn’t a wet version of Lassie, Kay shrugs this paranoia off, right before JAWS rams into the galleon, but get this – Jaws moves like a fucking battering ram. It displays absolutely no signs of life apart from the fact that some stage hands have simply pushed it forward, after which, and this is so, so good – it moves backwards in exactly the same manner. Now sharks can’t swim backwards, and if they would, they certainly wouldn’t do it the way Jaws does in this film. These shots are used along with actual shark footage, so Jaws changes appearance within the same sequence.

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Mike and Kay panic and use the dolphins to help them get to the surface, all the while pursued by a maniacally laughing Jaws. Well, the laughing bit’s not true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers tried to get that to work. They barely make it, and in another ‘rewind, NOW!’ moment, Jaws smashes into the closed-just-in-time gates and folds back in on himself just like a bad shark model would (but a real shark wouldn’t). ‘What the HELL was that?’, Mike exclaims. To be fair, any scenes involving sharks are suspenseful to me, so even what we’ve just seen was kind of scary, but I’m an idiot, so there you go. Word reaches Calvin about the shark, so the question is what to do about it? Well, the first option would be to kill it (and film the killing too!). Kay is appalled, but she just doesn’t understand. Calvin and FitzRoyce clearly have a silent ‘women, eh?’ exchange as our clueless Kay tries to convince them to keep it in captivity rather than do it over, but even her boyfriend Mike wants the thing dead. After all, he’s seen sharks in action, and as we all know, sharks are MURDERERS. Top marks to Quaid for delivering a line that ridiculous with such a straight face. Bravo, sir! FitzRoyce also gets a good one in with the line ‘They die…magnificently!’

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So beneath the waves we go again, but not before some gratuitous 3D shots of a hypodermic needle squirting tranquiliser juice right in our faces! FitzRoyce (complete with shark-bait orange wet suit with UK flag stitched onto the arm) is clearly loving the thrill of the hunt, and boring Mike Brody just doesn’t see the fun in all of this, thinking ‘Her Majesty’s attitude is far too cavalier. What a dullard. Oh wait, he was almost killed twice by those murdering sharks, so I take it back. One thing he and Kay do successfully insist on is NO GRENADES! Fair enough, because if they did get used now we wouldn’t get our explosive ending, so best to save them. There’s some oblique reference to Australia muttered by Jack when he starts moaning about not getting to use the grenades, but we don’t get to find out more about that, sadly, but we do get a bit when Manimal chucks the grenade into Mike’s terrified hands and Jack deadpans the reassurance that the pin has to be pulled for it to be dangerous. Wow, an intentionally funny bit! Our heroes set sail on what looks like a half-raft/half music stage, the kind Green Day died on when it sunk in The Simpsons Movie. Kay, FitzRoyce and Jack delve into the deep while Mike frets up above. Jaws attacks Kay by biting onto her backpack, but Jack gets the bastard with a knife, after which we cut to stock footage of a real shark. The fake one’s fin emerges above the waves and Mike goes for a crossbow shot but the bloody thing’s jamming or something – oh, the suspense! When he does finally get the thing to work, the spear goes RIGHT IN OUR FACES!! The spear’s attached to a weight which slows Jaws down enough for Kay to tranqulise it. Calvin, heartless git that he is, is only interested in knowing if the footage FitzRoyce took of the shark survived the incident. After FitzRoyce confirms the film made it – only then does he ask if everyone’s okay. Bastard.

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Jaws, still knocked out, is laid to rest in a pool, but she doesn’t seem too animated afterwards – maybe sharks aren’t meant to be confined like this? She gets going after having some oxygen stuffed down her gob, and therefore is all set to be put out on display at Sea World like some damned circus freak. The next day sees the opening of the Undersea Kingdom, so cue more water-skiing action, some poor worker having to spend their shift dressed in a whale outfit and Brody still wondering what the hell happened to Overman. Remember him? Remember any shark victims? It feels like ages ago since Jaws settled on a victim, the picky git. Calvin then secretly decides to put Jaws out on immediate display, so buzzed he is by the amount of tickets he’s currently selling. This isn’t going to end well. Good, we need something dramatic, what with all these endless scenes of water-skiers water-skiing; it’s as though the film was an advert for Sea World or something, which it couldn’t possibly be, given that the attraction in question is depicted as a stalking ground for killer sharks. That’s not good publicity. Little Sean Brody hooks up with Mama McFly and she persuades him to ride the bumper boats – uh-oh. A tour guide who acts eerily kindly, like the Good Witch of the North, invites hapless tourists to the Undersea Kingdom itself, an underwater glass tunnel where you can see all the little fishies swim past. Now the idea of this is brilliant. The idea of a shark attacking this attraction is terrifying. I remember when I was little and I went to Southend-on-Sea and I heard there was an underwater tunnel like the one in Jaws 3. I was so excited, but the tunnel wasn’t actually under the sea, it was more like an aquarium in a basement with some goldfish in it. Before we enter the Undersea Kingdom a model of a sea serpent above the entrance sticks its tongue RIGHT IN OUR FACES!! The special effects in the underwater tunnel are endearingly awful, not at all convincing. The people, the tunnel and the sea outside all seem to exist on separate planes. Some intentionally bad effects come in the form of tentacles which come out of the sets and attack the guests, making the whole thing feel like a ghost train rather than an educational study on aquatic life.

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After some bullshit between Mike and Kay, there’s an announcement over the tannoy boasting the surprise attraction of the day – Jaws! Kay heads over to the shark, passing the cheapest ‘will this do?’ sign clearly put together at the last minute, hardly fitting for such a spectacular attraction – only the ‘Sh-sh-SHARK’ stutter of the text suggests any thought was put into this feeble promotional tool. In the only genuinely emotional bit of the movie, the helpless shark dies right there in the pool, clearly not suited to captivity. I know sharks are MURDERERS, but I really feel sorry for the poor thing – it was just minding its business, we capture it, we imprison it, and it gives up. Even FitzRoyce looks put out, but Kay offers a brutal ‘go ahead, photograph it’ sting right to his face. I like FitzRoyce. I hate Calvin Bouchard. Fucking shark killer. He’s the real murderer. I demand vengeance. Jaws MkIII, Part II is going to attempt to deliver it. Attempt, I stress. He doesn’t even kill Calvin. Sorry about the spoiler.

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The Undersea Kingdom attraction seems to be a hit, but only before everything goes pear-shaped with the overdue reappearance of Overman, his savaged body drifting up against one of the windows, scaring the shit out of the guests – all but one, who takes it upon himself to push some poor girl RIGHT UP AGAINST THE WINDOW! What starts off as a good shock – Overman’s body is mangled to say the least – becomes absolutely hilarious when this sadistic fucker insists that this poor girl get a better look at the corpse. Next up is the scene that had to be trimmed in the UK for the film to get a ‘PG’ certificate (it would be released uncut as a ‘15’ on video) – Brody pulls back the sheet cloaking the rapidly retrieved corpse of Overman and in a grisly shot we see his face in full close-up, complete with bulging eye, torn skin, bad moustache and sea bug crawling out of his mouth! Brody holds back the puke and Kay inspects the body herself, where we get to see a severed arm bone and plenty of innards. Yuck.

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Kay ‘Oh my God’’s her way out of the room (quite funny acting here) and meanwhile there’s some blocked pumps that Calvin won’t responsibly deal with, muttering some crap about switching pipes or whatever. Note the music that’s playing in the ‘Neptune Room’ where Calvin and all of Sea World’s finest are wining and dining is a muzak version of the film’s Triumphant Theme. I like it when films do that  – James Bond films favour this, like when 007 walks into some seedy nightclub and someone’s singing the main theme on karaoke or something. Kay and Mike walk in on Calvin, FitzRoyce and Jack and try to convince them that the bite radius on Overman’s corpse had to belong to a HUGE shark, and in order to get the point across, Kay lays it out very, very clearly.

Kay: Overman was killed inside the park. The baby was caught inside the park. Its mother is INSIDE THE PARK.

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Wait, wait, wait, some damn shark’s MUTHA??!! Yeah, you got that right, and she’s right outside! Everyone inside the Neptune room gets to see this miracle of nature, and of GUMS. Yes, Jaws MkIII, Part II is very gummy. Just look at her grimace! In fact, I’m going to start calling Jaws MkIII, Part II GUMS for convenience’s sake. Gums heads for the ski-park, so maybe all that earlier footage of water-skiers will finally pay off with some bloody death. Ha! Fat chance. Jack and FitzRoyce scramble onto the beach and try to get all the idiots out of the water – Jack even ends up socking some bloke in the jaw in the midst of all the confusion. Mint! Mike commandeers a golf cart or something like that and tries to use its pathetic top speed to get to the water skiers – he ends up capsizing the damn thing in a shocking example of driving. He proceeds on foot and screams at the skiers but everyone’s having such a good time and not paying him any attention, so in the end he looks like a nutter. Now, as farcical as some of these scenes are, with skiers wobbling and falling over or the priceless reactions as they see Gums moving in for the almost-kill, the simple sight of a shark fin speeding through the water is undeniably freaky – maybe it’s just me, but I just can’t help but find it scary. Nevertheless, the fact that Gums doesn’t kill one single skier as absolutely unforgivable. I want blood!!! She moves pretty slowly – probably the slowest shark ever. Maybe she just can’t get to anyone in time. She fails to dispatch anyone at the Bumper Boats either– merely getting away with a little chomp of Mama McFly’s thigh. She also destroys a raft with a load of potential victims on it, except she doesn’t even eat a single one. There is blood in the water at this stage, but I think that’s because one of the people cuts themselves on a broken slab of wood. Seriously. Things are getting heavy now – even the dolphins Cindy and Sandy, whom Kay has loved so much up until now, are treated as expendable. Sean heads off in the ambulance with Mama McFly, so that’s them out of the way. Calvin gets on the radio and assures the guests that ‘technical difficulties’ are the reason the Undersea Kingdom has to temporarily shut down, but Gums (aka ‘The Big Bitch’) is already on her way there to get a closer look at the hapless folk already inside. In one of the funniest moments of the film, a little girl goes ‘Daddy, Daddy, look at the fish!’ to which Daddy turns around and exclaims ‘HOLY SHIT!’ Gums rams right into the tunnel, and as I’ve said before, the idea of a shark attacking an underwater tunnel filled with people one hell of a scary notion. Again, she won’t kill anyone; she doesn’t even properly break the glass and enter the tunnel! The guests make it through to a separate room that’s already half-flooded, but they’re essentially safe, even though they’re still all panicky.

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Now this is where I hand over to my good friend (and fellow film-commentary partner-in-crime) Mark for his perceptive observation on a particularly animated extra during this sequence.

I remember how excited I was when my mum said that Jaws 3 was going to be on TV Saturday night and I could watch it if I was good. I had at this point seen the frankly amazing Jaws and the really enjoyable (harshly maligned) Jaws 2 and could not wait to complete the trilogy. To be honest I only remember two things from that first viewing, that the 3D sucked (to be fair I am red/green colour blind so the effect was somewhat muted for me) and that the scene where the visitors to the park get trapped in the underwater tunnel had the funniest supporting player I had ever seen! Mutely looking around in all directions with the frantic air of a hyperactive squirrel he just stands out a mile. Even as the water tight doors close and the panic dies down still his head pinballs around like a dog trying to located a buzzing insect that only it can hear (the pained look of confusion on his face is frankly hilarious). Sadly we never get to hear any direlogue from ‘Frantic blonde man’ (that’s my descriptive, I couldn’t find him listed in the credits) or what happens to him after they all get rescued (it’s worth noting that he’s the first one out when the doors open, women and children first be damned!) but I like to think that he went home and calmed down over a nice cup of tea. Years later whenever I see Jaws 3 the 3D still sucks but I am happy to say ‘Frantic blonde man’ remains as brilliant as ever.

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Thank you Mark! Intercut amongst all of the above action is some dull crap about rejigging the tunnels or something, I couldn’t care less, but I can’t help but notice just how uninvolved Mike seems to be emotionally – I mean, he’s there in the moment, wanting to save the day, but what about the bigger picture, the whole antagonism he must be feeling towards sharks in general? True, we did get that whole ‘sharks are murderers’ stance earlier, but here it’s almost like the first two Jaws films never happened. Oh well, at least Kay has now agreed to go with Mike to Venezuela. As for Gums, she needs to be lured back into the filtration pipe where she’s been hiding, and FitzRoyce can guarantee her return by tantalising her with live bait – now before you go thinking what a heartless git he comes across as, he is suggesting that he goes himself, along with cameras to capture the whole thing – what a star! He and Jack go under and release some blood capsules and make a racket to try and lure Gums to them – amazingly, their plan works, although FitzRoyce is still in the pipe with her. The lifeline supporting FitzRoyce then (in)conveniently snaps resulting in a bizarrely grinning Gums taking the poor guy whole in her mouth! Then, with the kind of crazy camera angles the film should have had more of, we are INSIDE Gums’ mouth with FitzRoyce inside as he’s crushed to a bloody mess! It’s not fair really- FitzRoyce was the only genuinely charismatic character in the film, and given who survives this film – Calvin, his Smithers-ish lackey who keeps holding off the press, all those water-skiers – it’s not on, although given his daredevil persona, I suppose it was inevitable he wouldn’t make it. Jack doesn’t take his loss at all well – screaming ‘GUV’NOR!!!!’ repeatedly into the abyss – he and FitzRoyce seemed genuinely matey and reassuringly free of class antagonism. Oh well.

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This is as good a time as any to comment on Calvin’s inability to respect the shark’s presence – he keeps referring to her as ‘a damn fish’. I really wish he’d been eaten by Gums, he deserves it more than anyone, but Gums doesn’t know that, I suppose. Mike has finished fixing the underwater tunnel and Kay has joined him but so has Gums, having escaped from the bolted shut filtration pipe! It must have swam backwards to do this, and as we all know, sharks can’t swim backwards! Yeah, I only really knew that from the goofs bit on imdb, I admit it. Luckily Sindy and Barbie or whoever – the dolphins- distract Gums so that our heroes can swim back to Mission Control. Gums tries to stop them by lodging its jaw in the door, but she’s stopped from getting in any further. At least the guests in the tunnel can now escape, including ‘Frantic blonde man’, bless him!

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However, nothing – NOTHING – in the film can prepare you for the infamous ending, the one that every single online review of Jaws 3 focuses on because it’s just that bad. Yep, it’s GUMS BREAKING THROUGH THE GLASS! Mike, Kay, Calvin, Calvin’s nephew and some other staff member are in Mission Control but something’s heading towards them. Slowly. Not swimming, because it’s moving without any kind of realistic movement – it resembles a jelly baby on a conveyer belt. It’s Gums. In slow-motion, Mike, Kay and Calvin look up and start to realise just what’s about to happen. Then, Mike screams ‘SHARK!’ or ‘SHIT!’ and Kay screams the scream of the damned and Gums just keeps moving forward. She reaches the glass, and it smashes in probably the worst special effect in any blockbuster movie, ever. Actually, that’s not fair – the surfing sequence in Die Another Day or The Scorpion King in the second Mummy movie are worse than this, but this one deserves some kind of special credit because it was so clearly trying to be absolutely terrifying, but just comes off as hilarious.

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Mission Control floods instantly, the anonymous staff member gets knocked out and in his only act of heroism, Calvin picks her up and swims her to safety – his nephew doesn’t get so lucky. He’s picked up by Gums and crunched bloodily (well, the dummy version of him is) but NOT eaten properly. Why? Instead, his body is left to sink to the surface. Why is Gums so damned picky? Is she trying to lose weight? Well in this case it’s for plot reasons, as FitzRoyce still needs to be in the back of the mouth. As she tries to get at Mike and Kay (Gums is trapped in the hole of Mission Control, the back of its body moving in endearingly awkward stop-motion crookedness), we can see that FitzRoyce’s body is indeed still inside Gums, his hand with grenade (remember the grenades?) protruding. Mike and Kay fashion a hook and manage, after a few necessary bad attempts, to pull the pin out of the grenade, swim under cover and watch Gums EXPLODE! Of course, given that this is 3-D, Gums explodes RIGHT IN OUR FACES! Her actual JAWS are hurled out towards the camera, and bizarrely are given the freeze-frame treatment so that the audience can ooh and aah just that little bit longer.

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Mike and Kay swim to the surface, the sun is rising, but where are the dolphins? Oh shit, don’t tell me they didn’t make it! Oh, they did. The last shot of the movie is one of the all-time bad closing shots, as Kay, arms outstretched, yells ‘ALRIGHT!!!!!’ and Cindy and Mindy jump out of the water, bookending the frame perfectly, yet rendered in weird 3D that doesn’t make them look like they’re really there, all the while Alan Parker’s Triumphant Theme brings it all to a crescendo. Oh God, please fade to black.

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So that’s that – Jaws 3 is NOT GOOD, but I find it strangely loveable; Joe Alves has no knack of handling suspense or excitement, Dennis Quaid would have to wait a few more years before he become brilliant and compared to the first Jaws film (and even the second), it’s a joke. Yet it’s a joke I like revisiting – it’s a bad B-movie (although this particular B-movie cost twenty million dollars to make) but one I have a soft spot for. Guilty pleasure all round!

And here’s that hapless staff member dressed as a whale.

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Under the Skin (2013) – spoiler free review!

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Scarlett Johansson plays a woman who drives around Scotland picking up male hitchhikers for reasons most suspicious. There you go; that’s all I’m giving away plot-wise for both Michel Faber’s original 2000 novel and Jonathan Glazer’s striking new cinematic adaptation. The less you know, the more effective that first time experience will be, I’m sure. The book didn’t surprise me as much as it could have as I’d become aware of its plot developments prior to reading it. A film based on said book will also have the same issues. Saying that, Glazer does do plenty of different things with his film version, keeping the spirit of the novel but making his version all his own. The film is uncompromisingly oblique and gives no easy answers – having read the book might help you out with it all first time, though it’s not necessary to have done so.

Even if you have read the book, first impressions of the film of Under the Skin might still be one of bewilderment – this is a wild, visually audacious and extremely strange experience, blending the unearthly with the quotidian to disorienting effect. At times the film could be a fly-on-the-wall documentary. At others it might very well blow your mind. Despite the star presence of Johansson, this is no mainstream vehicle, bordering on arthouse – the story is quite simple but the execution is extraordinary. Beautiful, bleak, tender, brutal; some unwitting multiplex visitors are really, really going to hate this. Others will love it. Some, like me, will find its qualities all too much to take in a single sitting – this is how I felt about last year’s Only God Forgives in that I knew I liked it, but did I love it? What was this film?

I can tell you this much – Under the Skin plays out like some kind of blurred dream, so don’t expect immediate coherence, do expect touches of dazzling atmosphere, a remarkably dissonant music score and a performance from Johansson that’s her best ever – striking, sensual, remote yet sympathetic… she’s pretty much perfect for the role. Given that she’s been an actor I’ve rarely loved or hated (good performances here and there, but nothing I’ve gone crazy for) she’s completely won me over. Also, for UK viewers – seeing her walk past shops like Claire’s Accessories and Clinton’s Cards is a sight that boggles the mind in its mix of the glamorous and the mundane. My review’s probably given you as much answers as the film itself – once you’ve seen it I hope you’ll appreciate what I was trying to go for!

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 15: Station Identification

After the apocalyptic horrors of the previous episode, we all need a little lightening up, so here we are with the first overly comedic instalment of the series. True, there’s been humour in abundance in the fourteen episodes so far, but ‘Station Identification’ does seem notably more ‘amusing’ then anything we’ve seen to date. I say ‘amusing’ – some of the TV show parodies on offer might not raise a smile let alone a chuckle, but each to their own, you know? There are also more one-liners, wry observations and sarcastic asides than in any episode to date. Saying that, there’s still a heavy-duty antagonist and spectacular finale, so fans of the show’s action-led side will not be disappointed either.

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The animation does seem quite different here too – the closest comparison so far would be ‘Slimer, Come Home’, which had a noticeably softer look than anything in the first season – it doesn’t look as striking or vivid as normal, but I don’t mind the occasional differences in look from episode to episode. The general continuity of the series does remain constant, it’s just that sometimes this episode looks a little, well…out of focus, I guess?

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So, the guys are bored out of their minds, stuck for things to do – it’s been three weeks since their last bust, so Winston resorts to ping-pong to liven the mood. Peter’s well up for it, especially since it’s the only thing he majored in at University that he didn’t have to cheat at. The Ghostbusters film certainly played on the idea that Peter hustled and dodged his way through his studies, and this episode certainly advances that theory. Unfortunately Slimer eats the ping pong ball. Boo. Cue Peter wanting to kill Slimer and Ray drearily leaping to his defence. Thank goodness Janine arrives to relieve the tedium with the new television that she’s just dug up from her place (she won it on a game show years ago). It’s a tiny thing, and given that the guys already own a TV, I don’t know why this is all such a big deal, but whatever. The TV’s turned on, and we get to watch an snippet from ‘Leave it to Woodchuck’, which I’m assuming is a play on the dodgy-sounding sitcom ‘Leave it to Beaver’, which I’ve never watched, but I know it was parodied as ‘Father Loves Beaver’ in the film Scrooged, which starred Bill Murray, the original Peter Venkman! Small world. Anyway, the guys are baffled as to how there could have been an episode of this show in colour, given that the series was only ever made in monochrome. Janine’s even more baffled – this is a black and white TV!

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That’s when a monster-beaver in T-shirt, jeans and cap appears on the screen, enlarging in size before erupting from the TV and becoming a very real presence in HQ – it lays waste to the walls and is generally being a real nuisance. The guys try to block the beaver’s path with a table (its teeth go straight through the wood) and like Janine says, they’re about to be killed by a re-run. Luckily, the blighter gets swiftly trapped, but the telly’s still on, and a demonic tube of toothpaste escapes from an advert! That gets trapped too, and the TV gets turned off before anything else comes out. Winston sensibly asks what TV show Janine won her demon box on, The Outer Limits? Then there’s the revelation that the TV has been set to Channel One, to which Ray asks how so given that there is no Channel One? Eh, what? Never mind, there’s lots of other ghosts escaping from other people’s tellies, so off we go and indeed, it’s chaos everywhere, with loads of spectres flying all over the place, although if you look closely, it’s just the same run of ghosts looped – good old budget animation! Slimer gets ordered to stay in the car by Peter – good, his trouble/helpful ratio has been wildly uneven to date, and not in a good way. The ghosts get trapped and then before the trademark sigh of a relief there’s the sound of a restaurant tannoy advertising ‘the biggest TV west of the Hudson’. Uh-oh. The guys get there too late to convince the big-bottomed owner that TV is Not Good for You. The box is switched on, and we get a not-at-all subtle dig at He-Man’s toy-turned-cartoon weekly escapades, except here our ghost is called Power Guy – ‘king, hero and snappy dresser’ – from the planet Peternia and looking as though he’s taken way too many steroids. Seriously, his muscles have grown muscles of their own. He also looks a little like E. Honda from Street Fighter II, though this show pre-dates that splendid video game. Anyway, he too emerges from the TV, but because he’s a ghost, this ‘hero’ turns out to be a complete tool, laying waste to the restaurant and brandishing his terrifying sword all over the place, barking exclamations like ‘SMASH!’ and ‘DESTROY!’ like he’s the Hulk or something. He’s also got a huge TV where his chest should be.

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Nearly every line during this sequence is a joke or some kind of rejoinder: Egon’s not impressed with Power Guy (‘he doesn’t look so tough to me’) to which Peter suggests that he get his prescription checked. Winston claims he hates this show (aka Power Guy himself), to which Ray declares ‘everyone’s a critic’. Egon states they’re in trouble; Winston sarcastically asks him if he’s only just figured that out. Peter wonders aloud ‘why they never listen’ when Power Guy responds to Winston’s order to ‘hold it’ with a lashing out of his sword. The guys almost seem jaded during this bit, so it’s up to Power Guy to turn up the heat, or in this case, wind, changing his TV chest into a huge vacuum, threatening to suck Peter inside. Luckily Slimer saves the day by sliming Peter directly to the wall, securing him. Unfortunately Slimer himself gets sucked into the TV! End of Act One! I might as well say it now, but I’m just assuming Slimer is male. He’s not really one or the other is he? I guess I’ve always assumed he was male, and I’m sticking with it. If evidence appears proving the contrary, I will happily amend my reviews.

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Act 2 begins with Power Guy vanishing (for some reason he seems happy with merely enslaving Slimer) and the guys remove Peter from all that slime. Now in some episodes, the fact that Slimer had been kidnapped would have sent Peter over the moon, but not today. This time he’s going to get him back. Slimer has temporarily won Peter’s respect, and all he had to do was save his life. So, let’s cancel some shows! The guys suss out that the presence of this ghost pirate station is the reason there’s been so little spectral activity lately – it’s all been a build-up to this. Also, given that nearly everyone has a TV, the pirate station acts as the easiest gateway into anyone and everyone’s house. A bit like the Boogieman’s scheme involving closets in an earlier episode, but on a greater scale. The PKE meter leads the guys to Central Park, where Peter states the likes-of-which-we’ll-never-hear-again “On foot, on camel on dog sled, for Slimer, Peter Venkman goes anywhere!”

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Then, out of nowhere an absolutely huge (and terrifying) TV station tower emerges, complete with huge screens on the top, which start to transmit a welcoming message from this episode’s chief bad guy, The Big Boo! Well I think that’s his name. It’s probably the name of the station, but I like it, so I’m sticking with it. Anyway, the BB is a monstrous purple clown given to delirious fits of laughter, which would be infectious if he wasn’t so evil. Oh wait, a minute – I love this guy! It looks as though the guys have until midnight before the evil TV transmissions go national, so in the tower they go… for the second episode in the row, the poor blokes have to walk through a mouth-shaped door, and this one goes even further by having a big tongue slop out as though it were a red carpet. Eeek. The door closes, darkness falls. Oh, if only there was a light switch. A not-at-all-suspicious light switch drifts down to Ray, who pulls it, and everything goes wrong. All the TVs turn on, the guys appear to be standing on film stock, and the BB gives a more personal greeting with the delightful ‘welcome studio guests…or soon to be GHOSTS [crazy laughter]!’ The film stock goes all swirly-slidey and the guys are sent downwards through a crazy downward spiral into the CHASMS OF DOOM! For the second episode in a row, they’re all hopelessly separated. Winston ends up trapped with a TV screening Star Trek-parody Star Patrol, featuring a golden version of the Enterprise that beams down ghostly versions of Kirk, Spock and Bones, turning into a bird straight after. Following a great ‘we’re dead, Jim’ revelation from Bones, Spock turns up the tension with the following: ‘logic seems to dictate we should SCREEEEEAAAAAAMMMM!!!’, after which all three turn into pretty frightening monsters that tower over poor Winston, who blasts them. Ray encounters Gumbo, a ‘clay hero’ based on Rambo, who tries to obliterate him with an arsenal’s worth of bullets. We never find out who Peter and Egon bumped into as all guys are reunited, and the smell of food leads them directly to Slimer, who’s enraptured by a commercial for cake (‘rots your teeth, but who cares!’), except this pudding has a scary, fire-breathing mouth. There’s also a demon taco and killer sweets (the latter of which are introduced with a filthy-sounding ‘how would you like to wrap your gums around a nice, juicy…’ which makes me wonder about the thinking going on inside the writers minds at the time. Peter saves the day though, and I guess this makes him and Slimer even now.

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Slimer leads them to the main power source of the station, and Winston’s so keen to get there he almost eliminates the spud to get there. The hub of all the nastiness is a spectacular room dominated by a dynamo that powers the TV transmission – so it’s merely a matter of getting to it, right? Oh yeah, the Big Boo. He demands a quick ‘break time out’ in the spirit of all things television, but then he reveals it might just be the guys who are going to break – cue more crazy laughter!!!!! The BB then proceeds to absorb every single TV set, car and electrical good in the immediate area and becomes a huge metal monster! Oh no! Oh wait, it’s not that scary. He looks like a cuddlier, purple version of the Marshmallow Man. The animation doesn’t really emphasise the metallic element much. Oh well, to distract us from that there are some good lines that read awful in typed-out form but can’t help but raise a giggle when actually heard. ‘Now there’s a guy who’s really attached to his possessions’ is pretty good. ‘DIE NOW, PAY LATER!’ is bordering on genius. Now even though the BB’s makeover looks ridiculous, he’s actually become a more formidable foe, being able to hurl his many TV sets and automobiles directly at the guys.

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Two pathetic attempts to succeed follow. Ray bravely steps out and insists that he’s had enough of the BB. The BB hurls more stuff at him. Slimer bravely tries to take the BB on all by himself. The BB blows out a potent gust of air, knocking Slimer out of the way, wrapping him round a pole in the process. Slimer actually ends up seeing tweetie-birds, that’s how knocked out he gets. Thankfully, before more cannon-fodder can be immediately dispensed with, a magical pendulum with eyes and teeth appears out of nowhere (quite mad this bit) and heralds the call of midnight. The BB heads off to the dynamo and it’s essentially a case of now or never. Cue a strangely choreographed bit of animation as the guys line-up with impressive precision. Cue third pathetic attempt to succeed, with the guys blasting the hell out of the BB to absolutely no effect. Oh wait, there is some effect. The proton blasts must tickle the BB something silly, because there he goes breaking into hysterics again. Then Egon has a plan, clearly remembering ‘Killerwatt’ with its similar episode structure, underwhelming face-lift for its erstwhile scary villain and ‘don’t kill the bad guy, kill the power source’ twist. That’s right, aim for the dynamo! The BB goes nuts, and run right towards the guys, which would be scary if it didn’t look so funny. After one brief eruption of ‘to hell with it’ laughter, the BB goes all beggy-pleady and asks the guys to stop. You know, ‘25% off’. Make that ‘50%’. Not even 90%? Now the way the BB says ‘ninety’ almost makes you feel sorry for him, it’s such a pathetic whimper, as his metal shield falls away and he disappears (yet also seems to leave a small pile of dust, so has he vanished/escaped? Disintegrated?). In classic James Bond style, the villain’s lair starts to collapse, so the guys scarper – how they manage to escape given that they must be deep, deep, deep underground (and they got to that point by sliding down slippery film stock that, needless to say, went one way only), but the writers solve that by cutting them to instantly fleeing the tower. Ah, never mind, the episode only had less than a minute to go so they had to cut corners. Oh wow, does this episode end abruptly. Mere seconds after the tower goes, Slimer high-fives Peter, leaving him with slimy hands, and yeah, everything’s back to normal. Job done. Fun episode this – no classic, but I like it a lot.

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Oh yeah, these are the evil Star Trek crew members.

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Next, we we get a Megalodon, among other things.

 

Wake in Fright (1971) review

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Who’d have thought the director of Weekend at Bernie’s had a classic in him? No, I’m not talking about First Blood, though that is a pretty damn good film. I’m talking about Ted Kotcheff’s far earlier Australian set-nightmare Wake in Fright (1971), which is getting a well-deserved re-release this month and is one of the best thrillers of the 1970’s. You can feel the heat burning off the screen, smell the sweat and taste the beer in abundance. It drips with atmosphere throughout. It’s also notorious for actual footage of kangaroo hunting, with real killings shown on screen. These killings were actually recorded as part of an existing hunt, with the story footage based around it – the editing makes it all look as though the filmmakers and actors were the ones responsible for the deaths, but the disclaimer at the end insists the following:

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Now, given that the ‘survival of the Australian kangaroo is seriously threatened’, should this hunt have taken place at all, even if it was committed by ‘professional licensed hunters’? A look at Wikipedia reveals that the hunt went on for hours and was a drunken, grotesque shambles, and only halted when a power failure was set-up by the horrified crew. Should the footage have made it into the film? Well given that you could call the hunting sequence an indictment of this kind of behaviour, then yes, I suppose so. True, the rush of hunting is not denied (the high-speed photography of the hunters in pursuit is undeniably pulse-quickening), but the actual killings themselves are ugly and disturbing. Okay, it’s somewhat hypocritical of a reviewer like me who eats meat and dines at fast-food restaurants to bemoan the savagery of hunting, but there you go. I’m full of shit.

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John Grant (Gary Bond) is a frustrated teacher stuck with a single class-school in the middle of nowhere who is relieved that the Christmas holidays are here (remember, this is Australia, so the weather’s scorching hot this time of year) and that he can get to Sydney to visit his girlfriend. However, his journey requires a stop in the town of Bundanyabba (the ‘yabba’ for short) in order to catch a flight. Grant’s not impressed with the town, filled as it is with beer-swilling louts, but he’s got to spend the night one way or another, so off to the local pub it is, where he soon gets more than a few beers graciously bought for him by the local police chief. Seriously, beer seems to be the local currency in this town. Barely a moment goes by without another can being opened. Later on it’s suggested that to turn down a beer is the height of social unacceptability, so better get another one down you. The night’s drinking spills over into the back room, where a simple game of heads and tails brings in the crowd and before he knows it, a couple of lucky bets results in Grant raking in the cash. Stupidly, Grant ends up flat broke by betting all or nothing on heads in the hope that a huge win can free him of his necessity to work. Now he can’t even afford to get home, so it’s a case of getting by on the generosity of strangers (he’s not a sponge as such, given the almost aggressive hospitality of the locals) and finding himself sucked deeper and deeper into his darker side. This involves beer-drinking, sexual temptation, beer-drinking, $1 steaks, vandalism, beer-drinking, wanton stupidity, beer-drinking and, lest we forget, the drinking of beer. Grant’s not exactly a sympathetic character – he’s snobby and patronising right from the start, and he makes stupid decisions, but Gary Bond’s performance grabs you and pulls you up close, so we’re with him through it all whether we like it or not. There are future echoes of Straw Dogs and Deliverance throughout, what with the theme of liberal, civilised humanity reduced to animalistic savagery – the mensfolk in Yabba dismiss the only core female character (Sylvia Kay), leaving her to pick up after their rubbish and bemused that Grant would take the time to actually have a conversation with her when he could be drinking beer. Only the alcoholic local doctor, played by Donald Pleasance, seems to be half-aware of the arrested development of his town, but he seems to be happy being the big fish in a small pond who also gets to indulge his baser desires with shameless abandon, which reaches a low-point with the afore-mentioned kangaroo hunt. This is the inevitable destination of this town’s alpha-male, ultra-crude mentality, and this scene is pretty hard-going, yet admirably matter-of-fact and free of overt sensationalism. In fact, it’s weird to hear the sparsely used music score when it does appear – so realistic this film feels for the most part. Even the presence of the always recognisable Pleasance doesn’t distract from the real feel this experience conveys.

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The conclusion might come as a bit anti-climactic. It feels as though everything’s wrapped up nicely, and in a way it is, but the horrors of before linger on, and won’t be easy to forget. It’s a shame that this depiction of a descent towards darkness obliquely suggests that homosexuality is all part of the downslide. It’s not made obvious, but it’s certainly hinted that one of the reasons Grant realises he’s crossed the line is an apparent homosexual encounter with another character. After some drunken, intimate horseplay, the film cuts to the morning after, so we’ve not seen anything overtly obvious happens between them, so it’s all pretty vague. I just hope the film’s not saying that homosexuality is just further proof of a flawed character’s degeneracy or anything like that. Maybe the out-of-his-depth Grant feels that way, I suppose, but not the film?

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Overall though, this is a searing, burning experience, and it’s brilliant to see it fully restored and looking so good  – it’s one of the best Australian films I’ve ever seen (Ted Kotcheff’s Canadian, incidentally) and a must-watch.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 14: Knock, Knock

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For a long, long time, I thought this was the first ever episode of The Real Ghostbusters. As an introduction to the cartoon, I think it works very well, better say than ‘Ghosts ‘R’ Us’ , which by most accounts was the first episode. This is much more effective an introduction to the show– we begin with a straightforward bust, the guys are always exhausted, we establish that Slimer’s a pain in the arse, find out how the Ecto-Containment unit works, discover that the non-Ghostbusting public are mostly stupid, that the guys never get any sleep…it all works, and this template would continue to work many, many more times before the show went belly-up. Saying that, ‘Knock, Knock’ is no gentle introduction to proceedings. Nothing less than the END OF THE WORLD is at stake here, a calamity that is admittedly emphasised with far more grimness and believability in later episode ‘Ragnarok and Roll’, but nevertheless is delivered here in one hell-raising, unforgettable story. Wait, did I say story? To be honest, there’s not much of that. A lot here involves the guys journeying towards The Door of the Apocalypse, meeting all kinds of weird things along the way. They arrive at the door, and after some difficulty, close it. Phew, job done. That doesn’t sound too distinguished for what is probably a shoe-in for my top ten episodes ever. So why is it a classic? Well, for one thing underground train lines are scary. I used to go on the tube with an equal amount of nervousness and excitement when I was a child. I mean, what was in those tunnels? You’d whiz past a flashing light, a cable, nothing more than that, but when you’re young, your imagination plays tricks on you. The idea that these tunnels were haunted was another prospect, and guess what? In ‘Knock, Knock’, they’re bloody loaded with ghosts.

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This is one of the few (the only?) episode to soundtrack its episode title card with…absolutely nothing at all. Just silence. An accident? On purpose? Either way, the silence makes for a more foreboding introduction. Less can be more. We open up on a regular bust in a bowling alley where ghosts have possessed the staff uniforms, the bowling pins, the bowling balls…okay, it’s not very scary, and they get busted with ease, but this is the calm before the storm, trust me. Once the job’s done, the inside of the building looks utterly destroyed, bathed in sickly amber lighting, consumed in fire, but as usual, said job is a ‘piece of cake’. The outside crowds are cheering the guys on for a job well done, but in a moment of quite brilliant left-field eccentricity, Egon is convinced that the audience’s love may very well be ‘a trap’. Love it.

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So the guys arrive back at HQ, and yep, Slimer’s in the process of eating all of the food (including some unidentifiable purple liquid from a huge jar), leaving more mess around than usual, and leaving Janine in fit-to-burst rage. Peter joins her fury and proceeds to try and wipe Slimer off the face of the earth, but surprise-surprise, the others stop him from doing so, the spoilsports. Again, this seems like the ultimate Slimer introduction, more in keeping with a first episode, but there you go. Also in keeping with first-episode traditions, we get what plays out like an introduction to the Ecto-Containment Unit, from a slow pan across it to a long take of the trap being loaded inside, as well as an explanatory reassurance from Egon that now the ghosts have been incarcerated ‘they won’t be bothering anyone for a long, long time’. Also, Peter and Winston have a sneaky trick to avoid doing Containment Unit-related duties by mock-squabbling with each other over whose turn it is to dispose of the ghosts, guaranteeing that an exasperated Egon will do the job for both of them every time. Egon suggests that the others are afraid of the Containment Unit, something that has never been hinted at before or since, and only adding to the underlying fearsomeness of the supernatural in this episode. Seriously, aside from some goofy ghosts making an appearance at the start and in the odd shot underground (not to mention Slimer), the notion and presence of the supernatural is far scarier here than in most episodes. Evidence will follow, but in the meantime, the guys are long overdue for a rest. Now, this might be a good time to focus on the fact that this is one of the few children’s series that regularly makes a point of just how knackering the heroes’ job is. This might have something to do with the fact that it is a job, or that our heroes are human and not transforming robots, ninja turtles or feline warriors, although the fact that the Thundercats were actually cats was a bit odd given that they didn’t snooze at least fifteen times a day. You think they’d be the most laid-back out of all the eighties cartoon heroes. So yes, the Ghostbusters were people, working with what I can only presume to be pretty heavy nuclear proton accelerators on their backs, guilty of indulging in junk food diets and watching TV in their spare time. I’m amazed that out of the four, only Ray carried some paunch with him.

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So the Ghostbusters have earned their sleepy-time, but as we all know, a good night’s kip is never a guarantee for our guys, so let’s cut to the underground, or the subway as I should be referring it to since this is an US production, and there’s one of those spooky, eerie music cues the show has in abundance. Somewhere in the subway three workers are digging through the tunnels only to discover an extremely suspicious looking door with a huge, horned demonic head with fanged mouth and door-knocker-through-its-nose on it. For some reason, one of the workers makes a point of the door having a load of ‘weird writing’ on it, somehow forgetting to acknowledge the DEMONIC HEAD, which surely stands out more, more so than the writing at least, which I can’t really see on my version of this episode. Anyway, what does this so-called writing mean?

DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DOOMSDAY!

Now the worker bringing up the rear thinks that this answer was said by one of the other two workers, even though the voice is the VOICE OF DOOM, which sounds nothing like either of his buddies, and that all three people were facing the door at the time. This man’s an idiot. He gets worse. So anyway, the door repeats his warning once more, with a nasty chuckle thrown in for good measure. One of the three workers (not the idiot) wisely thinks that this is sage advice, and that maybe they shouldn’t disobey the orders of a DEMON DOOR. But the idiot’s having none of that. Now consider this – this idiot, he seems quite blasé with the notion of a talking door. His co-workers look understandably freaked out. But not this idiot. No, he’s more annoyed that this obnoxious door is telling him how to go about his work.  He’s certainly not going to go home early or cancel scheduled plans to extend the subway ‘just because some nut door’ tells him to! No!

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Now, despite various plot synopses of this episode stating the contrary, the Door to the Apocalypse is not actually opened by us ignorant humans. We certainly threaten to do so, as the idiot clearly tells his crew to break the door down. Please note that the door eventually bursts open of its own accord before these guys get a chance to get the job done. So, it wasn’t really our fault, although it would have been anyway. The structure around the door starts to cave in, the workers leg it and what’s left after the wreckage is an all new, horrifying door, bathed in red and blue light, dead eyes, a scary mouth and a general, ‘This House is Condemned’ vibe from top to bottom. It’s pretty frightening. This episode, in relation to many others in the series, is pretty frightening. We pull back from the door to reveal the train track leading up to it is all twisted, there’s a stairway that’s impossible to walk on without falling on your side and after all of this, now, does the door finally open, releasing weird supernatural stuff that works its way along the tracks towards a train setting off at the platform, where two people barely make it on board with a sigh of ‘We made it! Boy, are we lucky!’ Oh no, my friends. Oh no. This isn’t luck. This is DEATH! First of all, the front of the train turns into a face, scaring the hell out of some smart-dressed gent minding his own business on the platform. All the wacky graffiti on the side of the carriage comes to life and chase the bystanders out of the station, while the possessed train hurtles off into the tunnel, leading its passengers into DEATH. That’s right, I’m pretty sure none of them make it, as evidence later seems to suggest.

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In a staggering example of cut-price animation, the same group of bystanders flee the chaos at least four times. I always notice the bald bloke in the red shirt on loop. To lighten the mood somewhat, one of the graffiti ghosts pops out of a nearby sewer manhole and giggles a silly giggle. Ah, such silliness. Cut to Ghostbusters HQ, where Janine delivers a low blow to whoever is on the other side of the phone by quipping that yeah, the subway may be in chaos, but how can you tell the difference from any other day? The poor guys have barely changed into their jim-jams before the siren goes off, and so it looks as though the night has only just begun. Peter claims that this is all ‘a conspiracy’, delivering the second instance of paranoia after Egon’s comment about a trap earlier.

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The subway has already turned into some kind of subterranean horror show, with the terror released from the door contaminating the environment around it, or as Ray puts it excitedly, ‘it’s like the whole place itself is becoming evil…becoming alive…boy, this is great!’ I love Ray – yes, this stuff is scary, but it’s also cool, and I can never question the man’s enthusiasm, though Winston certainly does immediately afterwards, and immediately after that a train arrives at what’s left of the platform. Egon questions the presence of a train – weren’t all of them recalled because of this madness? Well yes, but we know this is the train that got possessed earlier, though the guys don’t, so on they board, and for those who hadn’t sussed out that this isn’t a nice train, we move to the front of the vehicle where its face shrieks an ungodly shriek. Still the guys don’t suspect a thing, with Egon commenting on the extraordinary convenience of their transport – this should cut down their journey to the door substantially. The lights keeping cutting out, but this looks set to be a smooth journey. Well…for a while anyway. In a cool reveal, the third or fourth cutting out of the lights fades back in to reveal that where there were originally four on board, now there are dozens more. Dozens and dozens of skeletal ghosts. Now, we can only presume that these skeletons are the original passengers from before the train got possessed. After all, they’re all wearing clothes like you or me. So it becomes obvious that everyone on the train has been killed, and now they’ve come back as ghosts. This is the show’s most overt instance of homicide since the Toy Ghost from ‘Ghosts R Us’ rode his enormous unicycle over dozens of hapless motorists. That earlier example seemed to be spectacle without real thinking behind the consequences, whereas this is the work of a sick puppy. I love it. The guys freak out, and it looks like they’re about to die, but as the lights cut out again just as the skeletons approach, the evil is proton-blasted into oblivion as the world’s most freaky subway ride really gets going.

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Now, depending on what version of this episode you’re watching, you may hear first season house band Tahiti perform their ‘Boogieman’ song, or merely an instrumental version of the main Ghostbusters theme. Now, as Tahiti are none-more plastic ‘80’s, some fans cringe and groan at the song’s presence in this sequence. Yet, I do prefer it to the use of the GB theme, which comes off as a bit too triumphant given that the terror is only beginning, even if the guys temporarily have the upper hand. The ride itself takes the guys on top-speed through the tracks, with the manholes above ground exploding and releasing spectral energy, before the train itself bursts out of the ground and flies over the jaw-dropped city folk, including one old bloke who seems at most, mildly bemused by this madness, as though this is just another night in the big city. The train then dives into the subway entrance, and then bafflingly emerges from underneath the station platform, sending one bloke falling over and onto the tracks, possibly killing him in the process as the train proceeds to land on the tracks as well. The train speeds past another station – this one crammed with commuters, so I guess the horrors what’s happened a few stops earlier hasn’t reached these people. We continue as the train twists and turns and then takes a direct vertical drop, after which we witness the second use of cheap animation as the exact same ghosts get blasted out of the carriage over and over again. The track then appears to be suspended in mid-air, the same ghosts continue to get blasted and things come to an end as we cut to an eerily sparse platform with a single woman waiting at the end. Who is she? We can’t see her face. Not yet, anyway. The train stops, utterly wrecked (look at the train’s possessed face, it looks seriously fatigued!) and as the guys depart, all of the carriages crumble into nothing, and that’s when they see the woman. Peter being Peter, he instantly steps forward to offer assistance, pushing past the others and running to the end of the platform, who hasn’t turned around, despite being spoken to. How rude. Peter sensibly suggests that this place might not be safe for her, although he says this in a manner bordering on lecherous. This is when the ‘woman’ turns around, and she has the face of a skeleton with huge teeth and red eyes! Step back guys, step back. She grows to double her size, laughing insanely, before exploding in a wave of bright light.

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Winston back tracks onto a kind of a milestone positioned somewhat inconveniently onto the actual tracks and falls flat on his behind. As he rightly says, that shouldn’t be there, so the guys investigate. There’s a lot of weird writing on the stone (unlike the door earlier, we can actually see the wording) and Egon works out that it’s written in Sumerian. Can Egon read Sumerian? In his sleep, underwater and with the lights off, of course he can read Sumerian! Egon’s sarcasm seems to stop the others in their tracks, but Egon is too busy reading the stone to notice. This is when the guys realise the impending doom of their situation, and that it’s up to them to close the door before it’s too late. Hilariously, Egon translates that the doorway is a link to ‘the nether regions’, which I’ve only ever heard mentioned as a euphemism for something else. Peter can’t comprehend the situation, so Ray puts it, brilliantly, in words he can understand. Here we go:

Ray: Peter, did you ever leave some old socks in your closet too long, and the whole closet began to smell like your socks?

Peter: Maybe?

Ray: Same thing here. Unless we do something to stop it, the whole world will soon smell just like your socks. Eternal darkness, and the world will be governed by ghosts.

Now that’s brilliant. In an admission of staggering honesty, Egon says that they might not make it back. This felt pretty scary for a young viewer – the idea that our heroes could die. Granted, animated heroes usually encountered life-threatening situations every week, but this felt real. True, Peter cracks wise, you know, it’s just another day at the office, but you know deep down that he’s scared. So the guys head off into the mist of doom towards the door, but for some reason we stay with the stone with the apocalyptic writing. Why? It’s just a stone. Oh right, here’s why, because the bloody thing’s laughing! That’s right, the stone now has a FACE, and it’s laughing! Also, the music goes from ‘Eerie Plot Theme’ to ‘Danger, DANGER! Theme’ just like that! We fade to black, but the eyes and mouth of that evil stone linger in the darkness a micro-second longer, and the nine-year old version of me is very, very scared. It didn’t help that I used to watch this cartoon at night with the lights off, and as masochistic as it was, I used to get super-scared with act-breaks like these, because the fade to black left the room completely dark for a while, leaving me alone with the screen-burn of a pair of eyes and a cackling mouth to keep me company. A few other act-breaks gave me the similar chills, but none as much as this one. There was also the silence of an act break, those few seconds where you’d be left with nothing. Given that the music preceding the fade to black was usually the show’s music at its most frightening, I was regularly left with the chills for the majority of these brief moments.

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Act 2 doesn’t offer any respite either, as the guys journey closer and closer to the Apocalypse (there’s a cool opening shot of them walking in murky silhouette), soberly reflecting on the fact that the whole world is going to look like their current surroundings if they don’t save the day. You know, stuff like trees with eyes, constant darkness and eerie mist everywhere. Egon’s portentous musings are then interrupted by the distant voice of a ferryman overseeing his boat of cursed rowers as they drift forever and ever. Now this is the most disturbing sequence in the episode and one of the weirdest in the whole series. The boat is an enormous skeleton for one thing, of what I couldn’t say. The ferryman himself (perched on the boat’s ‘tail’) is also a skeleton, albeit one draped in a snazzy purple captain’s uniform and shades. His crew are all human, doomed to row for all time. Apparently all they’ve ever seen for the last five hundred years is dirt, and the ferryman is taking wicked delight in mocking his crew about this. Now when I was younger, I thought the ferryman was saying ‘death’, which is a lot scarier than dirt, but at the same time it would have been pushing it to fit such grim allusions to death in a kid’s show. Still, the ‘reassuring’ way the ferryman tells his crew not to row so fast as they have all of eternity does send a chill down the bone. Add the show’s best creepy/sinister theme, the scary laughing and the fact that the ferryman sounds like an evil Ray and it all makes for a genuinely creepy moment.

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OK, what was that? Never mind, the guys say, just keep on walking and pretend we never saw that. Well, it’s difficult for us kids to forget we ever saw that, and you’ve got to love the twisted imagination that would throw in a Boat of the Damned for no other reason than to just freak out their audience. It doesn’t add to the plot, it’s swiftly forgotten by the writers and the characters and yet it’s one of the best moments in the series. We definitely need relief after that, so let’s head upwards, where some poor sap on the train platform questions the lateness of the service to himself before a haunted train loaded with goofy ghosts whizzes by at top speed, making a mess of out of this poor man and some other bloke standing near him, who deadpans ‘yep, there’s definitely something wrong with the line’. Ha-ha, we needed that. After a quick return underground where the guys wonder if anyone’s asking about them up top, we cut to the news where everyone’s asking about them. At this stage, the evil ghost energy has worked its way through the tracks to above ground, possessing the empty trains and turning them into huge demon-mouthed worms of all shapes, sizes and colours. Back underground though, (after some half-hearted attempt by Peter to get everyone to bail out) the guys encounter a huge orange tree with a face! This tree’s quite creepy looking, though the voice not quite so – he sounds a little like a wasted version of the Sandman from a few episodes back.

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Next up (after a mouth-shaped doorway which closes itself once passed through, never a good thing), the guys are shrouded in complete darkness with only the eyes of ghosts that are ‘too awful for anyone to see’, so they run blindly until they find themselves back in the light but unavoidably separated on different pathways that defy gravity – Egon’s upside down at one point. Once they clear it, the guys wonder how far they just ran (it only seemed like a few seconds to us, but it was a montage of sorts, so who knows?). Egon peers back and soberly insists the other that they don’t want to know. Besides, they’ve reached the door, so there’s no point looking back. There’s no gradual reveal of what lies past the doorway here by the way – we instantly cut to a huge blue sphere immersed in electrification, set against a hellish red and black backdrop blasting intense wind and fire outwards, the intensity of which starts to sends Egon’s PKE meter over the edge (he’ll be throwing it away soon enough, that’s another one to add to the pile). The door by the way has increased in size to an insane degree – it now towers over the guys like a skyscraper. It looks absolutely MAD inside– at least they don’t have to go through the door, Ray sighs with relief. Sorry, Egon says, that’s EXACTLY what they have to do. Egon heads on (ten out of ten for bravery) and breaks the news that they have to go inside use the intense power coming from behind the door to ‘superpower’ their proton packs as that’s the only way they’ll be able to pull back all the evil that’s already escaped. The voice acting, particularly from Maurice La Marche as Egon, is pretty spectacular – everyone’s having to shout above all the racket coming from the blue sphere, and La Marche totally convinces on selling the idea that the guys have to face certain death. After all, if the door closes before the guys get to escape, they’ll be trapped forever. Peter quite understandably susses that Egon knew that they’d have to go inside all this time and just decided to withhold that information. Egon admits that, quite understandably also, that if he’d told them everything right from the start, no one would have wanted to go through with it. Peter admits defeat, so I guess there’s nothing left to do except ‘tell the neighbours they’ve been playing their stereo too loud again’.

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This ending comes close to the climaxof the film in regards to sheer apocalyptic spectacle – everything’s going absolutely wild and you really get the impression that the guys are walking directly into something more dangerous than they’ve ever encountered. The animation really goes for it – it’s literally a hell-zone behind that door. The best bit is when they crawl their way to the edge of a precipice and can’t believe what they see beyond it – some kind of absolutely huge demonic being made up of mist or something that gets the guys screaming (the same scream heard after the ‘aim for the monkey’ line in ‘Ghosts R Us’, incidentally). Still, even Peter has to admit he’s impressed with all this crazy madness. Notice his smile too – Peter’s truly loving this, as is Ray after Egon’s throat-shredding cry of ‘arm nuclear accelerators, NOW!!!’ The guys fire directly into the sphere, giving it all they’ve got. I’m not sure how firing into the sphere would create a suction for the other ghosts to get trapped in, but I’m not a scientist, so I’ll shut up. The sheer force of the suction goes all the way down the tracks and above ground, grabbing the ghosts and pulling them right back above the guys heads and sending them back through the door, which is starting to close now that the Apocalypse is being postponed. Yet it looks as though the door wants to keep them inside, as Egon starts floating helplessly away! The guys use the reverse thrust of their proton packs to force themselves back out of the doorway, and the suspense here is quite excellent! They just make it through, the door is back to its normal size (complete with that evil face) and everything is all quiet again. Phew, that was fun, Peter jokes – maybe they should do it all over again?

DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DOOMSDAY!’ warns the door.

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That’s right Peter, you shut your mouth. So we’re back at HQ, and everyone’s ready to hit the bed, except Peter, who wants to eat until dawn. Slimer has eaten all the food though. Seriously, after all that they’ve been through, I’m genuinely surprised the guys don’t destroy the little spud right there and then. The others jump to Slimer’s defence so eagerly, and Egon even goes so far as to say that his eating obsession might be some kind of emotional crutch for coping with the fact that he’s a ghost who lives with a group of people who are hired to bust ghosts. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, it made Peter think, as he makes peace with Slimer by giving the greedy little git even more food in the middle of the night. Peter walks away, Slimer cracks up with laughter, knowing all too well that he’s won over his gullible hosts once more. I hate Slimer.

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Next, the irony of a TV show decrying the negativity of watching too much TV.